A chat with Len Tozer

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Many of you will know retired geography teacher, Len Tozer, who used to work at Budehaven School.  Recently, we enjoyed a long chat (Len can talk for England which is great as he is a mine of information) about various aspects of his life, including his mother taking in lodgers in Bude. Len is currently a Blanchminster Trust trustee.


Mr Tozer taught in America. At 18, though he didn’t know it at the time, Len left the town of Bude for what was to be 25 years.He had studied geography at Leeds University, and undertaken National Service. He returned in 1973 from America, with no job, but was offered work with four disruptive pupils inherited during the amalgamation of the grammar and secondary modern schools that formed Budehaven. He described the old stigma attached to secondary modern schools which meant the amalgamation was not universally popular, especially among the grammar school teachers.

Len’s mother’s visitors’ book with some of the Rangers who stayed listed

“It was a terrific change. I sensed it”, said Len. He was paid for only one hour a week, but worked the whole week, which pretty much sums up his attitude to life.  He lived nearby with his aged mother at this point.His mother sounded to be a strong woman, who was obviously key in her children’s lives.

Len’s hard work at the school soon paid off. A young geography teacher left, so next term he had a full timetable.

When he retired in 1994, a good friend and colleague recommended Len as a governor.  Len says there was a huge amount of change within schools during his time at Budehaven. By the age of 60, new technology was becoming increasingly important. One of the big innovations was the duplicator (photocopier).

He explains: “I was never a chalk and talk person, I was an outdoor person. My walks around Bude were notorious (maybe famous is a better word!) I took the pupils into all kinds of industry including hotels at the height of the season. We walked for miles and I showed them the opportunities awaiting them in Bude, because I was inspiring them to get out of this town at 16/18, to get away, to experience life elsewhere.”

Like many others though, Len eventually returned. He explained: “It was National Service that took me out of here. My father was a carpenter/joiner and I sadly lost him when I was 2. My mother, fortunately, was a far-seeking, amazing lady who raised us on her own, but still she pushed us, saying things like: “your trousers will be held up with binder twine if you don’t work”. She turned to her own skills as a housekeeper/cook and started doing bed and breakfast in Hollabury to support her family”.

Susanne Sanders was the German spy

Later, Budehaven suffered a fire (in 1999), followed by a multi-million pound rebuild by 2002.

Len says: “If you go back and think about architects at the time of the Budehaven fire, everything was flat-roofed, so the school was full of buckets catching water leaks. Tar was used to plug the leaks, so when that place caught fire, it really went up. The fire chief kept his men out, it was so fierce. It could have been caused by the kitchen, or an electrical fault. No one knows.  I think it was April when it went up. I was pulled back in as a governor to help with the sorting out effort. The Town Council of the time offered no help whatsoever and we were coming up to exams, so it was a frantic period. Eventually, Cornwall Council woke up and we had a village of Elliott desks, each school form divided into two. There had to be toilets, and all sorts of aspects of a school to get pupils through the next 2-3 years. In a way, the fire was the best thing that ever happened as the rebuild was much better. The science block, however, survived.  We took over what was the old Grenville Hotel, Adventure Days. It had all the facilities necessary, so we had to take all the desks up there where students sat their exams.

The Council offered us the use of the Parkhouse. The kids were brilliant, governors were invigilators and helped out. Lots of men were recruited to shift stuff. John Ward handled it very well as head teacher. He never came into my lessons though.  I’d have liked him to come in. He said it was because there were no problems in my classes, but there’s nothing better than praise. You don’t look for it or base your style on it, but…

The school always had an ethos of politeness, partly due to a lady called Sylvia Hughes, Deputy Head. Every day now I have to face all my ex pupils, and of course lived in the town when I was teaching, so I was always just and fair, but wasn’t afraid of falling out of favour. In defining a ‘good teacher’, you have to consider the after effects of what you say and do, which tell you whether you are doing a good job or not. When the National Curriculum was first introduced, for example, there was no money and no guidance and just had to do our best”.

Poem written in praise of Mrs Tozer

Old Bude

“There were certain features in old Bude which were important to people. The Parish Hall was once well used but is now shops. The Headland Pavilion was a big feature of my childhood. It is where the Americans entertained the children at Christmas and it housed the performances created by Ivor Potter.  The Falcon was a rather higher class establishment.

The grammar school started in 1908, as a fee paying school. Most children who attended were farmers’ sons from the outlying areas. There was a German called Von Ritter who was Head of the grammar school. When 1914 came along, he would have been interned, but he changed his name to Ritt, and survived, due to support of the local Bude powerful. Whether he was ever naturalised, I don’t know. In 1945, I went to the grammar school. The old order was disappearing/retiring and lads started coming back from the War. We had a lean time there though with poor teaching, and people in and out, some not qualified; stability came when I was in the fourth year so we had two good years running up to the old school certificate. I took the last one in 1950.  There were 90 pupils in the whole school and only 2 of us in the sixth form.


I had no idea what I was going to do. I matriculated, just, and the subject I really loved was Latin which I studied to advanced level.  Bill Wright, teacher at the grammar school, influenced me. There’s always someone you can relate back to.”

Len’s Mum

Be good to see if anyone else remembers any of this kind of material…

“When I did National Service, my mother emigrated. She travelled on all the liners like Mary and Elizabeth, United States, and QEII. I got some nice postcards. My great grandmother lived in Canal Cottages. Her husband had died at sea. Two boys aged 10 and 12 brought the vessel in. There was a death club, a fund set up by the Brendon Family, to cover expenses for anyone who died and couldn’t afford a funeral.

My grandmother, unable to pay her rent with her husband away at sea a lot, was kicked out of her accommodation. She had to go to the poor houses in Bridgerule, almshouses. My mother went to the school there at St Bridget’s. She left at 12 and went into service. Girls either entered the laundry trade or housekeeping then, which wasn’t much of a future. My dear mother, Rosa, had the ability to adapt. Her mother used to do some laundry for the Falcon Hotel. The current Co-op site used to be where the washing lines were, as someone objected to having washing lines at the back of King Street.

Mother didn’t marry from her own church. She married at my father’s church in Lympstone, east Devon. Tozer is a S Devon name, prominent in Plymouth, originally Spanish. My father did his apprenticeship in carpentry and joinery and worked for Lady Drake on her estate.My mother wanted to get back to Bude. My father went into the Navy and my parents moved to Holsworthy, renting a cottage on North Street; later, they came to Bude. They moved all the furniture from Lympstone to Holsworthy on the goods wagon of the train, costing £3 17s. The biggest error ever was getting rid of the train to Bude and Holsworthy.

Later, still wanting to be in Bude, mother’s aunt gave her £25 to buy a cottage in Mount View She had to go to a local moneylender who lent the money at 5% interest. The house was too small, however, for what she wanted to do, which was to rent out rooms. She saw a house in Victoria Road, used the house at Hollabury as collateral to buy the house in Victoria Road, then she inherited this one (Killerton) so soon she had 3 houses. As time progressed, my sisters and I agreed that I’d keep this house if I looked after her, as I was single and had custody of my son. The rest of the property was shared out. I really enjoyed my sisters’ company when I was young, but two of them followed their husbands and moved abroad.

My eldest sister, Joyce – who stayed here – and my mother, didn’t get on. Two days after her husband retired, he sadly died. When I retired, I suffered a bit of post-retirement guilt during the transition, but you do get over it, though I ended up taking A level music and becoming a school governor to keep my hand in.

 I had a very happy childhood, the kind of which I feel no longer exists. My world was what was just around me. I’d just go out of the door in summertime and my mother wouldn’t see me until I was hungry at around six o’clock. We’d go to the beach, the cliffs, birds nesting, apple scrunching. We’d go round as a group in year 11 but girls didn’t really come into it. They could join us if they didn’t need special treatment, like help getting over stiles, etc.  I go to Back Lane (near Victoria Road) sometimes, which was my immediate playground where I learned to play football and cricket, annoy the neighbours, kick a ball against a garage wall, etc.

My last headmaster used to lodge at Saratoga, which was then a very upper crust lodging house. A Greek guy bought it and it changed identity. Downs View was also a highly reputable area. When the Americans arrived here during the War, they occupied a lot of these houses. My mother had 4 Americans billeted on her in Victoria Road. She had no choice in the matter. There was a knock on the door and she was told to clear 2 rooms. However, they were wonderful lads. Mother had the foresight to keep a visitors’ book. These 4 lads are signed up in the book. We also had a German spy.  She had wonderful writing. The police arrested her and I think she ended up on the Isle of Man.  When I went to America, within 3 months, I got notice to serve in Vietnam, which I wasn’t happy with. I was right on the edge of recruitment. I went to the interview but then he realised I’d done 2 years of National Service in Britain, so I was not required to do it, which was a big relief.

So, my mother earned her living by letting rooms. I regret very much that I didn’t ask my mother enough about her life but her visitor book records go on through the War. Visitors arrived here by railway, of course.  

The homeowners were expected to provide some basic facilities. Soldiers were entitled to hot water for bathing and shaving. My Mum was good to them and they were good to her, bringing coal, etc., which would provide hot water. Rangers had to make their own beds, and meals were not provided. If no bath was available, the stipend was reduced by a penny a day.

Further back, my grandfather sailed ketches out of here. His vessel was The Ant which sank off the Isle of Wight with a cargo of cement, then he had the Alford, but then he disappeared. I think my Granny got sick of him.  My mother was born at King Street. She emigrated to America three times after she was 60, to see her daughters. One was a GI bride who married one of the Rangers here. She was one of the first women from the family to go to university; she went to Durham. I remember my mother being asked by a businessman what right she had to send her daughter to college.

That sister is now 94, and her husband died 2 years ago; they became farmers in New Hampshire. He hit the beaches at Omaha with the 29th Rangers, survived, and walked all the way to Berlin. He was an amazing man. All my brother in laws survived during the war. One was a Lancaster air bomber and they usually lasted 6 weeks”.

Len loves his life in Bude, and enjoys the diversity of people he meets which he feels enhances the town. He also thinks many Bude locals are friendly, receptive and welcoming, such as Vicko, who is from an old Bude family from the top of Victoria Road. He says that in Bude there were various areas that produced the names of the old Bude families: the Hollabury gang, the Flexbury gang (he was a member), the centre of town gang, and Falcon Terrace, up towards Upton.

Len had 4 older sisters – he was the baby brother. His youngest sister was 7 years older than him, so he was a little like an only child. His beloved mother died at the age of 93 in 1987.





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